3 Reasons To Get Off the Grain Train – and 4 Flavorful Ways To Do It

We all want a generous ‘healthspan,’ that is, the time we have on this earth to live with vitality and in good health. Fortunately, there are plenty of everyday habits that can help us achieve it. Good sleep, plenty of movement, keeping stress at bay, social connection, they’re all important. But when you eat right, well, that’s money in the bank when it comes to minimizing disease risk, maintaining youthfulness and extending longevity for as long as possible. And, of course, the wrong foods have the opposite effect. They can trigger the diseases that knock years or even decades off your life and shrink how much you get to enjoy the time you do have. 

One handy way to approach upgrading your diet is by thinking of it as a series of “food swaps.” Take the bad hombres --we’re looking at you processed foods, sugar, alcohol – and replace them with leaner, cleaner and yes, tastier alternatives. How to start swapping like a pro? Here’s some food for thought:  

To grain or not to grain.

By now most of my readers should have a handle on healthy diet mainstays -- plenty of farmers ‘market and/or organic vegetables and low-sugar fruits like berries; healthy fats; clean, sustainably sourced proteins and, if it agrees with you, some dairy as well. 

Grains are trickier, which is why they are such great candidates for swaps. Yes, they can, in moderation, be part of a reasonable diet. But the reality is, some people’s systems handle the grains better than others. In my practice, we see a lot of unwell folks struggling with gut issues, autoimmune disorders, and inflammation, even though they’re eating a “healthy” diet. Often, it’s the grains and the gluten protein that comes them that is causing the problem. Wheat, the most popular grain by far, is the worst offender. When that’s the case, we may prescribe a grain-free diet as part of a therapeutic protocol. Not only does this approach remove potential troublemakers from the system, beginning the gut soothing and healing process, it also helps narrow down the list of possible culprits.

Grains can be speedy agers.

I’m pretty sure the word has trickled down that Wonder Bread doesn’t cut it as health food. But too many patients think they’ve got a blank check to eat all the grains they want, as long as they’re whole grains. True, whole grains contain the plant germ and the bran and hence have more good-for-you nutrients and fiber. But typically, they’re ground into flour which still digests very quickly. That means they readily break down into glucose (read, sugar) in the bloodstream and that can cause a world of problems. For some, it’s a simple matter of gaining some unwanted pounds.  For others, the sugar can fundamentally unbalance the metabolism, pushing up insulin levels which in turn drives insulin resistance and can lead to a host of metabolic issues. Over time, that can make you old before your time. Don’t think you’re at risk? Roughly half the adult American population has prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.

Grains can lead to many chronic diseases.

A diet that’s too reliant on grains can weaken the gut. Sometimes it’s the veggies you’re not eating that’s the problem – you’re starving the gut microbiota of the food it needs to protect the gut wall and your immunity. Sometimes it’s the gluten in the grains that’s directly creating havoc. The possible consequences? Leaky gut, food sensitivities and allergies, skin eruptions and, worst of all, chronic inflammation – the spark that lights the flames of the diseases we fear most, like cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease and diabetes. 

Swap those grains.

To downshift your grain intake, or even experiment with going totally grain-free, it’s all about smart swaps, as in trading out the less-than-stellar stuff and trading up to the most nutrient dense, fiber-rich, minimally-processed foods possible. Real food swaps are key – it’s not about finding a heavily-processed substitute to try and mimic the stuff you’re letting go of. The goal is a super-nutritious plate that covers more than the everyday hungries, feeding your gut bacteria the stuff they thrive on, and feeding your human cells all the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants they need to flourish. 

As you upgrade your plate, pretty soon, you’ll probably not even miss the grains you used to eat, and you’ll grow a lot more accustomed to feeling better, sleeping better, and likely dropping some excess weight. So, swap at your own pace, and adjust according to how you feel. Let your body be the judge. For some people, replacing grains with small quantities of less refined and more fiber-ful carbs is a net health gain, think very small portions of starchy vegetables, legumes and “pseudo grains” like quinoa and buckwheat. But, for more carb-sensitive types, this kind of swap doesn’t go far enough. So you’ll need to experiment a bit to figure out where you fall on the OK-or-not scale. In my opinion though, I think most of us eat way too many carbs of any description – so the fewer you take in, the better. 

To begin your smart swapping journey, and spread the low-grain and grain-free love throughout the day, start here:


  • Eggs: with veggies and avocado, instead of muffins or sweet breakfast breads
  • Home-made paleo granola: instead of cereal or the way-too-sugary store-bought stuff
  • Classic protein shake: instead of commercially-made, sugar-bomb smoothie, blend up nutrient-packed, satiating shake with low-sugar ingredients, including:
  • Protein powder – we like Vega Pea Protein and Garden of Life and Designs for Health
  • Healthy fat – coconut milk, avocado, nut butter
  • Additions – water or unsweetened nut milk, ice for thickness, a handful of greens (I buy pre-washed spinach and keep it in the freezer), a handful of berries (frozen organic blueberries), chia/flax, cinnamon, etc.


No matter where you are on the grain-o-meter, the fewer sandwiches in your life the better, but, in a pinch if you need a quick, relatively healthy surface to spread your lunchtime avocado mash or hummus on, give these minimally processed grain-free – and gluten-free –  options a try:


The evening meal, when many people want to tuck in to something substantial, less than ideal offerings like  pasta, rice and potatoes are often the default. But those stick-to-your ribs carb bombs are a fairly nutritionally-bankrupt way to end the day, particularly when your last meal of the day should be the lightest to support better sleep and digestion. What to do instead? Make these three nutrient-packed options your defaults instead:

  • Cauliflower rice – who needs brown or white rice when cauliflower does the trick beautifully, grain-free, with just about 3 carbs per cup, while also delivering plenty of Vitamin C and K, B12, folate, calcium and potassium.
  • Spaghetti squash --  is a super nutritious upgrade from pasta, and is no slouch in the taste and texture department. It’s low in carbs, high in fiber and is a tasty source of beta carotene, vitamin C, fiber, and niacin to name a few.
  • Zucchini noodles –  no matter how you slice ‘em, they’re a fresh, light alternative to pasta noodles, and unlike typical wheat pastas, they’re super low carb and come fully loaded with antioxidants like leutin and zeaxanthin, plus folate, potassium and vitamin A.


In general, it’s better for your blood sugar and your health to follow a time-restricted, or intermittent fasting pattern, where you eat breakfast on the later side and dinner on the early side, so your eating window is about 8 hours and your fasting window is roughly 16 hours, keeping grazing and snacking to a minimum. However, when the urge for a little nosh strikes, make it a nutritious, grain-free one. A few excellent go-tos:

Longevity Reading